Columnist Margaret Miller is a longtime Creston Valley resident. File photo

Columnist Margaret Miller is a longtime Creston Valley resident. File photo

Valley Views: MISSING THE CROWDS

“After 11 months of quiet pandemic life, I miss the crowds, particularly Creston crowds with familiar, friendly faces.”

Valley Views is a column by Margaret Miller, a longtime Creston Valley resident

I’ve learned in the past year that I enjoy being in a crowd more than I thought I did.

I spent my teens and twenties in a city of more than 3 million, so I often found myself in large groups. Sometimes it was great: a music festival, live theatre production or organized fun-run. Often it was an uncomfortable nuisance: crowded sidewalks, peak hour buses and trains, parks and malls jammed with bodies.

By the time my thirties rolled around, life among the masses had lost its appeal and rural life beckoned. Space and quiet. A closer connection to nature and the changing seasons. Easier access to the backcountry. My husband and I moved to Creston Valley decades ago and haven’t looked back.

After 11 months of quiet pandemic life, I miss the crowds, particularly Creston crowds with familiar, friendly faces. Pining for the good old days, I tried to recall the last time I rubbed shoulders with a big group of locals.

Perhaps it was at the Tivoli, where I saw “1917” and “Little Women” about a year ago. It may have been at the 2020 Wild and Scenic Film Festival in February. I fondly recall lining up at the auditorium washroom during intermission. Short chats with female friends and neighbours, always a valued part of my social landscape. In the words of the 1968 hit song, “Those were the days my friend; we thought they’d never end…”

Now, the only crowds I see appear on a TV screen or computer monitor. Unfamiliar faces. Flat 2D faces. I watched the annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival at home this year, viewing it online and missing the company, the oohs and aahs, and spontaneous applause of an in-the-flesh audience.

These days, the only real-life crowds I see are the non-human variety, the four-legged or winged variety. And there are a lot of them out there.

Driving across the flats recently, I spotted a herd of elk in the field north of Highway 3. Elk are often sighted in our area and I was pleased to learn the Kootenays are home to about 20,000 of them. The herd close to the highway was impressive in number, about 60 grazing in the open, their large bodies magnificent in the sunshine. I pulled over and watched them wander.

Large numbers of geese are wintering in the valley, too. One afternoon, after mild temperatures stripped snow from the grainfields, a large flock gathered close to Nick’s Island Road South. Hundreds pecked at the dark Earth, undisturbed by the few vehicles passing by. I watched smaller flocks gather at the mouth of Summit Creek last week, their feathered bodies bobbing on the Kootenay River then lifting into flight. They honked happily and headed towards the lake.

And the wild turkeys are crowding us again. Most mornings, an eager flock awkwardly runs down my sloped driveway, and as many as 40 can gather close to the house. The more intelligent of the mob have learned to perch on our bird feeder, causing it to spill seeds set out for the chickadees, nuthatches and flickers. My husband rose to the challenge and plugged openings at the top of the feeder. So far, so good.

Mother Nature’s other wonders are on view as well. Forests of evergreens on the mountains. Hundreds of icicles suspended from rock faces and red rosehips dangling from bushes. Constellations of stars in the clear night skies. The beauty of the many.

I hope to enjoy the next Wild and Scenic Film Festival sitting among hundreds of others. I hope our collective commitment to health protocols and the completion of vaccination programs get us back on track, back to physical closeness with those we care about. Back to the joy of the many.

Meanwhile, I can revel in the beauty of nature, in the wild and scenic delights of our valley.

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